In Chinese, Twitter Actually Means "Blog"

Thanks to the Chinese language, Twitter in China has quite a different meaning.

Not literally, of course. In fact, Twitter has pretty much no meaning to the vast majority of Chinese Internet users. Along with a range of other prominent foreign-owned Social Media sites, Twitter is blocked by the government’s Great Firewall. (In addition to Facebook, YouTube and others, the movie website IMDB recently joined the list blocked sites. Hard to understand the rationale for blocking lists of actors.)

There are a number of workarounds that savvy netizens use to breach the Great Firewall, but most resort to using one of the newly created Twitter-like domestic competitors. As with Twitter these sites limit messages to 140-characters.

Therein lies the point: Since there is greater meaning conveyed by a single Chinese character than a letter in the Roman alphabet, Twitter becomes a mini-Blog.

To prove the point, my Beijing-based colleague at Ogilvy, Jeremy Webb, did a very interesting comparison between messages sent out by Dell on Twitter in English and the Twitter-like platform in China called Zuosa.

Writing in English on Twitter, @DellOutlet is, of course limited to 140 characters. There is not a lot you can say before hitting that letter limit, especially if you want to include a shortened URL. This Tweet came in at around 136 characters, so almost the maximum length.

Writing on the Chinese-language Twitter-like platform Zuosa, @delldirect manages to say a whole lot more.

In the 114 Chinese characters, the Dell microblogger said:

Dell’s National Day Sale will run from Sept 11 to Oct 8. To celebrate the 60th anniversary w. the motherland, Dell Home Computers is offering 6 cool gifts & deals on 10 computer models. These exciting offers will run non-stop for 4 weeks. Also, get a free upgrade to color casing & a 512MB independent graphics card, as well as other service upgrades. All offers are on a first-come-first-serve basis. What R U waiting 4? Act now!

Even with that message there was still space to leave a shortened URL.

In other words, 114 characters of Twitter in Chinese translate into 430 characters in English. This is well beyond the limit of a Tweet.

One result of this language efficiency is that with Twitter in China people are able write more blog-like entries. This turns Twitter and Twitter-like services into mini-blogs instead of micro-blogs.

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45 comments

  1. philwoodford

    It's always nice to read something glaringly obvious which, embarrassingly, you've never manage to think of yourself. Chinese tweets pack more punch. Thanks, Thomas.

  2. Fascinating. I had always thought this way. You could write more in Chinese… but thanks to you guys you have proved it. Now I have practice my writing and reading!

  3. Well technically, the English translation of the Chinese should be much longer; you've turned written “11” (two characters) for “eleven” (six), “&” for “and” (one instead of three), “What r u waiting 4″ instead of “What are you waiting for” to name a few.

    But your point is well made all the same!

  4. Uln

    Thomas, the problem is 140 characters ascii is not equivalent to 140 Chinese characters, neither in meaning conveyed nor in the bytes it takes to transmit it!

    I got a rule of thumb from a well known translator in the China blog scene:
    Ncharacters = 1.7x Nwords

    Now, the average length of an English word is roughly 4 letters, so this gives:
    Ncharacters = 1.7 x Nletters/4 = 0.425 x Netters

    This means that, to convey the SAME meaning, you need to use less than half (0.425) of characters when you write Chinese than letter is English.

    In other words, it takes 2.35 times more characters to say the same thing in latin script than in Chinese script.

    Of course, all this is a rough calculation, because the estimates of 1.7 and 4 letter/word are not so precise, and they depend very much on the style of the writer.

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  8. s

    a small paragraph of text is considered a blog? uh, no.

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  10. jezwebb

    Oops, maybe I should add something too this…

    I am not sure how long this has been the case, but while Weibo allows 140 Chinese characters in a post, you can actually enter up to 280 Roman characters. If the different character allowances are intended to give writers of English and Chinese equal opportunity to express meaning, it would suggest Sina thinks Chinese microblogging is TWICE as generous as microblogging in English.

  11. jezwebb

    Oops, maybe I should add something too this…

    I am not sure how long this has been the case, but while Weibo allows 140 Chinese characters in a post, you can actually enter up to 280 Roman characters. If the different character allowances are intended to give writers of English and Chinese equal opportunity to express meaning, it would suggest Sina thinks Chinese microblogging is TWICE as generous as microblogging in English.

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  17. Donna Kggg

    Twitter, Google, Facebook & PGE Smartmeters exist only to spy on you and sell your information to advertisers. They spy on every single thing you do, look at, click on and sell it.

    They also will give the information to people who are suing you and to any agency that requests it. Don't use them.

     Get privacy software on your computer. Don't be a tool for them anymore.

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  21. I had always thought this way. You could write more in Chinese… but thanks to you guys you have proved it.

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